20 years ago everybody wanted to be in a band. 10 years ago everybody wanted to be a DJ. Today everybody wants to be a comedian. There are more comedians in America than ever before, getting up every night at clubs and theaters and whatever weird little local holes in the wall will give strangers a mic and five minutes of spotlight. It can be overwhelming if you’re a comedy fan, so let Paste pick out the best comedians you’ll be laughing with soon. All of these ten are already well-established on the club scene, but any of them could easily take that next step into theaters and, perhaps, even arenas. Who could be the next Aziz Ansari, Louis C.K. or Sarah Silverman? Check out the ten comedians below to find out.
Aparna Nacherla doesn’t reinvent the wheel—this is observational comedy. But there’s something special here, in the way the she so succinctly reveals the surreality of being alive in the year of our lord two thousand and whatever. Is it the way that she specifies that she got cat called “last summer?” Is it her long bit on the evolution of clickbait listicles (“Sometimes it’s like ‘Two Birds!’”)? More likely it’s in the way she says things like there’s nothing weird about them, the same way I can casually drop “my therapist said,” into conversations with my peers like that’s a really chill thing to do. We live in interesting times, and it seems counterintuitive not to just say that, and be saying it all the time. To paraphrase Nancherla, I’m not sure how you could read a newspaper and come to the conclusion that everything is fine.
It’s not as if she’s filled with righteous indignation, but man, shit is fucking weird, am I right? It’s that balance, of expressing disbelief without ever seeming outraged, that keeps this from being corny or cheesy. This isn’t a call to action, but a call to take a look at this guy. It’s not to say that she isn’t political, but it feels conversational. It’s the platonic ideal of your friends’ group DM. I felt like she was on my side, that she was illuminating all the tiny ways that life sucks that we don’t want to talk about. It’s just the way things are, sure, but at least you can laugh at it.—Gita Jackson
Jo Firestone is an inherently funny person who comes across as so genuine on stage. You immediately connect with her while she has you rolling in the aisles. Maybe some of this comes from practice, as Firestone has been hosting a number of live shows in NYC for years, including Punderdome 3000. She’s appeared on The Chris Gethard Show and currently writes for The Tonight Show, but don’t miss a chance to see her in person where she is perhaps at her best.—Laurel Randolph
With his always quiet tone, his literary attention to detail, and his fundamentally decent demeanor that comes off like a Boy Scout who somehow jumped straight into being a grandfather, Joe Pera is clearly playing a character. (He also won the Andy Kaufman Award, so yeah.) But he plays it so well and so unflaggingly throughout all of his different projects, from his web videos to his Adult Swim specials to his stand-up, that it’d be disappointing to find out it’s not really who he is. It’d be easy for Pera to base the joke on his character’s own squareness, but that would also completely ruin the charm that defines the act. For proof check out his recent appearance on Conan.—Garrett Martin
With a certain president driving attention to it almost every week, Saturday Night Live just wrapped one of its highest rated seasons in years. The all-star political impressions might’ve gotten the most attention, but come Sunday morning diehard comedy fans were more likely to share the show’s more surreal pretaped segments, especially “Diego Calls His Mom” and “Wells For Boys”. Both of those were written by Julio Torres, whose stand-up is as distinctive as those videos. He reminds us of somebody like Mitch Hedberg, not in appearance or delivery but in his cultivation of a strong persona and his ability to squeeze absurd concepts into short, hilarious comments. I have no idea how old he is, but I’m sure writers will have a hard time avoiding the word “millennial” when they write about him, as he rips on hipster stereotypes, youth-skewing pop culture and our dependence on technology in inspired and unexpected ways. Watch him perform in the Paste Studio above.—Garrett Martin
Few words better describe Beth Stelling than “confident.” She seems as comfortable telling jokes about her mom’s struggles with technology as she does with the rape and abuse she revealed in 2016. She took the worst thing that could happen to a person and created some great, shocking, and incredibly dark jokes, and the fact that they weren’t even close to being the best part of her hourlong set is a sign of how tremendous a comedian she is. (That would be the stuff about her dad and his business.)—Garrett Martin
I saw Michelle Wolf twice at Just For Laughs last year, once at an hourlong solo show and again about two hours later on a showcase with a handful of other comics. The week was full of jokes about Trump, Clinton and the election, and Wolf had the best of them all, without ever feeling didactic or strident. She cut through the inherent absurdity of this most unthinkable of elections, making universal observations in her own unique voice. The Daily Show contributor has the ability to cover overly familiar comedic ground—the election, menstruation, cultural and societal struggles between men and women—without ever feeling trite or hackneyed, which is the sign of a great comedian.—Garrett Martin
Scovel’s built up a lot of buzz over the last few years with his idiosyncratic approach to stand-up, as shown on multiple Conan appearances and a Seeso special and album from last year. He’s about to make his biggest stand-up splash yet with a Netflix special arriving on June 20, 2017. As we wrote about his special from last year, Scovel “has the confidence to pull off his nontraditional stand-up in a traditional stand-up format without looking too precious or clever.”—Garrett Martin
“Lovable” isn’t a word you might often associate with stand-up comics, but it’s pretty much the easiest way to sum up the appeal of Ron Funches. Between his cartoon character voice, his constant giggling, and his endearing love of wrestling and videogames, Funches feels like an overgrown kid in the best possible ways. There’s an emotional resonance to his comedy when he talks about his relationship with his son, Malcolm, and that can give his set a surprising depth. He’s about to launch his latest tour, Funch-a-Mania, this week in Brooklyn, so check your local listings. You can also watch him chat with Paste’s Keri Lumm above.—Garrett Martin
Kondabolu is another smart and funny comic examining America’s current political climate and all the racial and cultural implications that entails. He also released one of [last] year’s best stand-up albums, Mainstream American Comic, which former assistant comedy editor Gita Jackson called “an unflinching examination of our country’s politics.” In a year absolutely full of political comedy, Kondabolu proved himself to be one of the smartest and sharpest political commentators around.—Seth Simons
Watching Kate Berlant is the stand-up equivalent of waking up in the middle of a college lecture—you know all these words but you’ve never quite heard them in this context, never quite in that order, and you can’t shake the feeling that maybe it’s all still a dream. She’s an elegant, calculated performer whose one-liners are as potent as her narratives; impossibly, almost everything she says comes entirely out of left field. It’s cuttingly intelligent stuff, but the kind of intelligent you mustn’t think too hard about—else you risk turning into exactly what she’s making fun of.—Seth Simons